Humor Literature as a Lens to Chinese Identity

By Sun, Michelle C. | East-West Connections, Annual 2004 | Go to article overview

Humor Literature as a Lens to Chinese Identity


Sun, Michelle C., East-West Connections


Lin, a scholar from China, was visiting her friends Mr. and Mrs. Lee. The telephone rang, and Mrs. Lee answered it. Mr. Lee asked who had called, and Mrs. Lee answered casually, "It was your girlfriend."

A few days later, Lin returned to visit again. Talking to Mrs. Lee about the telephone call, Lin said to her, "Don't make that kind of joke. It might have been a real girlfriend." (A true story)

Chinese humor to some may seem an oxymoron, like legal ethics, artificial intelligence or exact estimate, and literature in Chinese humor may sound like a paradox. I have asked numerous recognized scholars about the existence of Chinese humor literature, and their instinctive reply is that not much exists. This reality is a question lurking in scholars' minds, remaining unresolved. A widespread impression is that the Chinese nation is one peripherally involved in humor, unlike the West that celebrates humor. The prevailing argument is that with the implementation of Confucian conservatism and formality across dynasties, humor has been de-emphasized (Feinberg, 1971). A different and more positive argument, however, maintains that the Chinese are "a people undeniably possessing a deep-seated humor" (Wells, 1971). For decades, both these two polarized concepts point to something mystical, attractive and tension-building. In this paper, I present my observations about this dangling paradox in the Chinese literary world and how unfolding it could display a valuable lens to view the reality of Chinese identity.

The word "humor" cruised through the worlds of medical, literary, philosophical and psychological interest. According to The Columbia Encyclopedia, this word for centuries had a medical denotation to mean a secretion of the human body later elaborated into four basic temperaments reflecting salient humor types. The idea was transformed in Elizabethan and Renaissance literature to mean a personality aberration or eccentricity, or a literary character having a passion that conveys comic effects and humor. The contemporary senses of humor are often delineated in psychological and philosophical terms:

1. Humor is defined as a joyful character of a complex situation "in the main quiet, laughter, either directly, through sympathy, or through empathy" (Drever, 1953). This definition implies a good-tempered laughter that induces sympathy and compassion for the laughable.

2. A sense of humor may "engender amusement without any behavioral manifestation or with only the lesser one of smiling" (Crag, 1998).

3. Humor is a mental disposition that is "a quirk, a kick, a mental oddity that throws a man off balance and twists his view of life" (Edwards, 1967).

Humor, in general, is more sympathetic, compassionate and less cruel than satire, and more penetrating and subtler than farce and comedy. According to The Columbia Encyclopedia, a comedy is a genre of dramatic literature that depicts the light and ridiculous, giving its social implication through intentional objects of amusement. A farce is a mere comic play with exaggerated characters and events to convey humorous effects. An irony is a dramatic device that states something different from what is meant, demanding that the reader interpret the concealed contextual meaning. A satire identifies direct impartial criticism that conveys the author's viewpoint about the objective world. It differs from humor in that it has the objective to ridicule and not only the aim to expose vanity, hypocrisy, idolatry, bigotry or sentimentality, but also the ultimate goal to achieve reform. Authors have their discretion to add humor to a satire or irony. Humor often induces the reader to contemplate and eventually be amusingly liberated after receiving the signified message, often with smiles instead of laughter. All these terms denote varying degrees of comical intensity but all present the art of laughter.

Chinese humor should be understood with the semantic origin of two phrases huaji and youmo:

1. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Humor Literature as a Lens to Chinese Identity
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.